No more excuses – The Nation

  • National Assembly should wake up to consider Auditor-General’s reports ignored since 1999

The disclosure by Auditor-General of the Federation, Mr. Anthony Ayine, that the National Assembly has failed to act on reports sent to it since 1999 by his office is an admission of the failure of politicians to promote accountability and good governance. All that public officials have pointed to as evidence of success is the sheer length of civilian leadership. They are quick to attribute the slow progress being made to what they describe as nascent democracy. In recent times, government has come up with a “war against corruption” mantra that starts and ends with probing the past, with a view to recovering stolen assets. Little is being done to strengthen institutions of state and putting in place adequate structure to deter graft.

The 1999 Constitution and public service regulations are clear on the need for regular audit of ministries, departments and agencies of government as a way of deterring corrupt practices. It is unfortunate that, in 20 years, the National Assembly, to which the Auditor-General of the Federation is mandated by section 85 (3) of the constitution to submit an annual report, is yet to fully consider any of the reports.

We are constrained to ask, what have the public accounts committees of the two chambers of the federal legislature been doing? Too engrossed in base politicking to have time for primary assignments? We recall that the various audits laid before the law makers have raised serious issues for which directors of ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) ought to have been summoned. The same practices have continued over the years because no one had offered the checks and balances envisaged by the grundnorm. Impunity, arrogance and avarice reign freely in the public sector as a result of this failure of the National Assembly.

But, whither the executive, too? Financial Regulation 3210(v) is clear in providing that every agency shall forward its financial statement early enough to the Accountant-General of the Federation for scrutiny and onward transmission to the Auditor-General before May 31 of the following year. As pointed out by Mr. Ayine, the last report received from the Office of the Accountant-General was with respect to 2016, and it captured returns for 323 agencies. He said 65 agencies have submitted nothing since the inception of the Fourth Republic.

As the buck for actions and inactions of the executive stops on the President’s table, we are surprised that these infractions have escaped his attention so far. Accountability should be scrupulously adhered to by all in a government that lays claims to fighting sleaze and graft in the public sector.

The 8th National Assembly, like others before it, has failed the nation in raising the standards. So, the 9th assembly should take note and put an end to this odious practice. The next Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives should commence work by ensuring that only legislators of impeccable character and vast experience in the public and private sectors serve in the public accounts committees. The committees’ work is too important to be left for professional politicians.

Where audit observations were made in the past, the agencies should be made to respond. Chief executive officers of the 65 agencies that have so far subverted the system by ignoring constitutional requirements should be brought to book as soon as possible. Those still in service, even if serving in other departments, should be punished as stipulated in the rules and regulations. We cannot keep doing the same thing the same way and expect a different result.

President Muhammadu Buhari owes Nigerians who have reposed confidence in him by renewing his mandate the duty of ensuring discipline in the executive arm of government, while lawmakers cannot continue to demonstrate contempt for work, hoping that Nigerians will continue to excuse their aberrant behaviour on the ground of executive-legislature tiff. It is time for serious business.

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